Google+: A rundown
Although it has been criticized as a too-little-too-late competitor to Facebook, a year and a half after its launch, Google+ (sometimes abbreviated as G+) seems to be holding its own. The site (plus.google.com) has 500 million registered users, 135 million of whom are active on a monthly basis, Google announced Dec. 6, and it is the fastest-growing social network.
While Google+ includes adaptations of popular Facebook tools such as chat, sharing, tagging and “+1”, the equivalent of Facebook’s “Like” button, it has several features of its own, including:
Circles – One of the biggest selling points of G+ was Circles, a feature that groups people into categories such as Friends, Family and Professional. Users can also choose who to place in which Circle and create their own Circles. The main advantage of this feature is the ability to limit the content you share to certain Circles, meaning that your coworkers are spared seeing the pictures of your cat in a Santa hat you show to all your friends. Facebook’s Smart Lists works similarly, but is a lesser known, less popular feature of the billion-user site.
Hangouts – While Facebook does now offer one-to-one video chatting as part of its chat feature, Google+ hangout allows you to chat with up to 10 people. Hangouts also incorporates screen sharing and Google Docs to aid virtual business meetings, as well as the ability to live stream your Hangout to the public.
Instant Upload – You might recall the commercial of a dad who is extremely thankful for this Google+ feature after leaving his smart phone in a cab; the phone contained irreplaceable pictures of his kid, which luckily had been saved to his Google+ automatically. This cloud-like app allows for instant backup of photos taken on mobile devices to private albums on G+. Facebook introduced its answer to this feature, called Photo Sync, Nov. 30.
Communities – Google+ introduced this latest feature Dec. 6. The tool lets people search and create groups based on similar interests such as photography or baking. You can set Communities as public or private, and just like with Circles, you have the ability to share content to specific Communities from various websites.
Explore & Search – On the flip side of the privacy benefits afforded by Circles, Explore’s continuous stream of “hot and recommended” public posts lets you discover content from random G+ users. And in true Google fashion, G+ has a built-in search bar that lets users browse public posts using specific keywords. These features offer an advantage over Facbook, where primarily only people, pages and apps appear in search results.
Infographic courtesy Hubspot.com
The premise of Google+ is that it is not merely a social networking site, but a “social layer that binds together all Google products,” says Jesse Stay, director of social media for Salt Lake City’s Deseret Digital Media, in an article for Deseretnews.com. Its aim is to apply a social element to the entire Google experience. For example, photo attachments in Gmail now include a “share” option so you can easily add them to your G+ account. Google Shopping now allows you to read product reviews by fellow G+ users and post your own. YouTube, which has long allowed users to sign in with their Google account, now includes a handy button to share videos to G+. These streamlined web interactions are part of the beauty of Google’s single sign-on.
Single sign-on also gives Google the ability to better track users’ web activity and tailor ads and search results to their interests. Not only does this offer users a more customized, useful search experience, but “companies have found that those social annotations boost ad clicks by double-digit percentages,” according to an article on cnet.com.
Another interesting aspect of Google+ is its effect on Google search rankings, a factor that is especially pertinent to businesses with pages on G+. The more your website’s content is shared within Google+, the higher it will rank in Google searches, according to Stay. Google+ also allows for content authors’ pictures and names to appear next to the links in Google searches, which makes your content stand out even if it is not the most highly-ranked.
The internal search on Google+ also has advantages when it comes to getting yourself or your company noticed. When you search on G+, you have the option to either comment on a resulting post or enter your own post. When you do the latter, your post shows up in the results for that topic, even if your post does not explicitly mention those keywords, Stay explains. “This turns into a great opportunity to meet new people talking about similar things, and provides a great way for your brand to insert itself into a conversation,” she says. Like Twitter, Google+ also supports hashtags. Stay notes that the growing yet still comparably low number of G+ users would make it easier for businesses to trend on G+ than on Twitter.
Although it has yet to reach the prominence of its competitors, Google+ promises a unique social experience and features that separate it from the pack. This “black sheep” social network might be just what your business is looking for to augment your inbound marketing and social media strategies, reach new and existing customers and build brand awareness. How will you enter the conversation?